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Black Stallion


Published 1939
Topics


formerly known as "King of the Sierras"

You can find more information regarding this film on its IMDb page.


Run time 53:25
Producer George A. Hirliman, M.H. Hoffman
Production Company Condor Productions
Audio/Visual sound, b&w

Reviews

Reviewer: Dark Moon - - July 2, 2011
Subject: I love horses

I even went to an agricultural school to study them in an equine sciences program. Nevertheless, I'm afraid I pretty much have to agree with bearpuf on this one.

At its heart, this film is more or less a documentary about the family life of the wild horses ("mustangs," from the Spanish, "mesteños") who occupy the undeveloped plains and mountains of the US. The focus is very narrow, though, as it narrates the story of two stallions who compete for possession of a family. It is told in the context of an annual horse roundup, after which the ranchers will "ship 'em off to the market." (Naturally, the film never shows that "the market" was the meat-packing plants, where the horses were bought and sold by the pound.)

This story is wrapped in a framing story about Tommy, who is growing up on his uncle's ranch, and who wants to hear the stories of family life among the wild horses. The scenes of Tommy's life on the ranch even have "singing cowboys" thrown into the mix (which is pretty much out of context for the main story that this one is wrapped around).

While I've seen some high quality docudramas, this one impresses me as a mish-mash of a film that doesn't tell either of its stories (such as they are) very well. At least part of the reason for this result becomes apparent in the IMDb Plot Summary for this film, which begins with: "An unusual film in that it was comprised of new film footage tacked onto an original film produced by M. H. Hoffman Sr. and Jr.,and never released because of the collapse and merger of the Hoffman's Liberty Company into the newly-formed Republic operation in mid-1935, and consequently has two different sets of actors and production crew members."

To someone who has seen documentary films of wild horses and their families living in a natural setting, the story of the two stallions, which apparently was part of the original film, feels entirely contrived and scripted. That's because it was—according to the plot summary, Jack Lindel, the trainer for the film, also furnished the horses for the drama of the two stallions, 'Whitey' and 'El Diablo'. What they portray is a pale shadow compared to what wildlife photographers have managed to capture and document. And I couldn't even hope to guess the purpose for including the burro in this original footage. While domesticated horses can and do befriend all manner of creatures, they seem to stick with their own while living in the wild.

As best as I can tell from the IMDb plot summary, it is the story of Tommy on his uncle's ranch that was added in by the second production company. It also sounds like the second cast that does the narrative voice-overs for part of the original film, which would help to explain why they mistakenly refer to the burro as a mule. They portray him as something of a comedy relief character, which may or may not have been the original purpose for including him.

The result of all this nonsense is an admixture of story elements that hang together very loosely, rather than a tightly knit story with a plot and character development. And if that were not irritating enough, this print has been repaired so many times that even the splices have splices. There is enough missing footage that the dialogue and narrative, both which are essential to the story, are heavily disrupted. One can still "piece it together," but it's scarcely worth the effort to do so. I'm not sure this film left me angry like it did with bearpuf; mostly, I was disappointed when it didn't live up to the other reviews on this page.

I really hate to pan this film so hard without being able to suggest something better; in this case, I think I can. :) If you really want to see how horses live in the wild, there is the documentary series by Ginger Kathrens, which is available on PBS streaming video. Installments so far are:
Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies
Cloud's Legacy: The Wild Stallion Returns
Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions

Though I could have wished that Ginger had said much more about their behaviour and family life, her series offers a portrait of the actual lives of wild horses that really stands out when compared to this film.

Another PBS documentary, Wild Horses: An American Romance, narrates the history of the uneasy relationship between wild horses and humans in Western America, from valuable resource for breeding stock until mechanized farming replaced horse-drawn implements in the 1920's, to the cruel and brutal methods by which "mustangers" hunted wild horses for the meat packing plants (which for obvious reasons is not portrayed in Black Stallion), to Velma "Wild Horse Annie" Johnston and her letter-writing campaign, to the repercussions of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 and the mixed results of the BLM Wild Horse Adoption program. (In Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions, Ginger shows BLM agents engaged in darting wild mares with birth control drugs. This latest attempt at a humane method for managing mustang populations is no doubt the result of the limited success that the adoption program has experienced.) I do not know if this film is available anywhere for free streaming or download, but I did find one place to order it.
Reviewer: kareneliot - - October 9, 2010
Subject: Enjoyable
A classic.
Reviewer: four hooves - - December 22, 2009
Subject: Unique Horse Story
This movie really would have been a treat for the Saturday matinee kiddo cowpokes to see wild horses in their natural environment. The movie is also interesting in that it tells the story of wild roaming mustangs in the sierra nevadas. The human actors perform primarily as narrators in order to tell the story of a White Stallion (named "Whitey"), and his harem of mares, and a rival Black Stallion (named "Diablo") who is intent on stealing those mares away from Whitey. If you watch closely you can learn a little bit about herd dynamics by watching the way the horses relate to each other with the body position, ears, etc. There is also a burro (or donkey) that figures prominently into the story, however, he is incorrectly referred to as a Mule by the narrator. That's probably because it was written that way in the script and the actor doing the narrating hadn't seen the footage that had been shot of the the horse herd out in the wild. The fight for the harem of mares between Whitey and Diablo is something that probably still occurs daily out in the wild horse and burro sanctuary on the BLM range. The strongest and most determined horse wins the fight and thus wins the right to propagate his genes through the mares he has won...which is natures way of ensuring the survival of the strongest and hardiest of the species. I for one am very thankful this film was saved by archive.org and believe it is very much worth a look, regardless of whether or not you yourself are a horse.
Reviewer: trueblue1144 - - October 16, 2005
Subject: Black Stallion
Wonderful family movie. Heartwarming story with all the right elements. Horses, a child and the wise father figure. You can't go wrong with this one.
Reviewer: bearpuf - - August 15, 2004
Subject: Yes, it's that Bad
It's got lots of footage of horses, kicking, biting, running away from fires, from wolves (actually German Shepherds), and standing around in herds. The stock footage used is a phenomenon in itself. If there's a purposeful story line it was buried with the gold that lies beneath the western mountains where it was filmed.
It is unfortunate that there are productions of this nature that would bore even a ten year old to tears waiting to see or hear the reason of such a movie in it's unclear narrative storytelling. I can imagine that when this movie first played and when the kids were let out of the Saturday afternoon matinee, they broke out into fist fights for the frustation of wasting their time. See, even I'm fighting mad.
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